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Rajesh Khanna, Bollywood's first superstar, dies at age 69

Rajesh Khanna poses on the green carpet at the 10th International Indian Film Awards on June 13, 2009, in Macau. AP

(CBS/AP) NEW DELHI - Rajesh Khanna, the first actor to gain superstar status in the Bollywood era, died Wednesday after a brief illness. He was 69.

His wife, actress Dimple Kapadia, and two daughters were at his bedside when he died at his home in Mumbai, said his son-in-law, Akshay Kumar, also an actor. According to media reports, the star had been in and out of hospital over the past month with an unnamed ailment.

Khanna began his career in the Indian film industry in the mid-1960s in romantic films that were hugely popular. He played the lead in some 120 of the 170 movies he appeared in and won scores of awards.

His enormous success was a new phenomenon in India. Screaming fans surrounded him whenever he appeared in public. Women married his photograph and wrote him letters in their blood proposing marriage.

After a nearly three-decade reign in Bollywood, Khanna's popularity dimmed when action films became the rage and younger stars rose to the top. He last appeared on camera earlier this year in a ceiling-fan commercial, Reuters reports.

As his career in films faded, he shifted to politics and was elected to Parliament in 1992 and served there until 1996.

In Mumbai, large crowds of people gathered outside his house Wednesday as word spread that his condition was worsening.

As news of his death became known, the crowds swelled and police had to push back the throng. Film stars and directors who had worked with him visited his home to offer condolences. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also conveyed his wishes to Khanna's family and fans in a Twitter message.

A Thursday funeral is planned.

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